Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said his defense would be better this season, and through two games, the Hogs have certainly delivered on that side of the ball.
Would you believe they’re ranked higher nationally in total defense than total offense?
Well, they are. The Hogs are fourth nationally on defense and 10th on offense.
And, yes, there is a caveat. They haven’t played anybody in the first two games that had a realistic chance of beating them.
That changes Saturday when they tackle their first real test of the season on the road against Georgia.
Saying this defense is ready to silence the doubters is like saying Ryan Mallett might throw a few passes in this game.
“We appreciate the credit we’re getting, because for so many years we have been disrespected and have been frowned upon,” Arkansas senior cornerback Ramon Broadway said. “We appreciate what we have going on. But this Saturday is when we’re definitely going to be judged, and I think my defense, no doubt about it, is going to answer the call. We are a better defense than we were a year ago.”
Broadway was front and center for the nightmare against Georgia last season. He doesn’t need any replays, and he doesn’t need any reminders.
He can still see all those touchdown passes soaring through the air -- all five of them -- and all those Georgia receivers celebrating in the end zone. The 52-41 home loss to the Bulldogs crystallized everything that was wrong with the Hogs on defense last season.
“You can’t really do too much about that game now,” Broadway said. “We’ve put it behind us and are moving forward, but it hurt. It hurt bad.”
Junior defensive end Jake Bequette added, “That was definitely the low point. Our offense had an incredible game, and we didn’t hold the rope for them.”
But that was then, and this is now.
The Hogs are deeper defensively, more experienced and faster in their defensive backfield. They’ve also been able to move some guys around and get them in their natural positions. Rudell Crim went from cornerback to safety, while Anthony Leon went from safety to outside linebacker.
“We have the right combination of guys out there now,” Bequette said. “We’ve also had a couple of young interior guys, Byran Jones and D.D. Jones, really step up their game, and it’s all just clicking for us right now on defense.”
In their first two games, the Hogs have allowed just 3.3 yards per play. They’ve clamped down on the big plays. That’s after giving up 22 touchdown passes a year ago. In one stretch, they went eight straight games where they gave up a touchdown play of 60 yards or longer, and six of those were passes.
“There’s a lot more maturity on this defense,” Broadway said. “The old Arkansas defense, when we did give up a big play, we’d start pointing fingers and feeling sorry for ourselves. But, now, everything is a minor setback. With any big play, that’s how we look at it … just a minor setback.
“That’s what our identity is on defense, and we’re going to live or die by it.”
There’s also an identity that Broadway and the rest of his defensive mates are determined to change.
That being the Hogs will go only as far as the offense will take them.
Broadway’s not about to diss his offense, but he also says the days of the defense being the red-headed stepchild on this team are over.
“We’re not looking for the offense to go out and win a game for us anymore,” Broadway said. “We used to rely so much on the offense that we’d get frustrated when they didn’t score every time. But we’re to the point now that we want to win the games. We want the rep the offense had last year. That’s the rep we want this year, and we plan on going out and earning it.”
They will get that chance Saturday in Athens.